Everyone’s Spirit Animal Should Be Cultural Sensitivity
Everyone’s Spirit Animal Should Be Cultural Sensitivity

Everyone’s Spirit Animal Should Be Cultural Sensitivity

The phrase superficially appropriates Native American customs. Plus, there’s a way better word to use.

I would like to start out by saying out that I am a White Girl, and therefore, while I can point out things that are problematic and/or racist, I will never be on the receiving end of that racism, nor will I completely understand the damage that it can do. So, by pointing this out, I may be just shouting into the void from an outside perspective. But, there’s a vague chance I’m shouting in the right direction, so I can try to spread awareness, and thus, here we are.

Lots of things in today’s society are problematic. The words “politically correct” have been thrown around condescendingly by older generations in an attempt to understand the “youth of today,” but a lot of people are coming to the realization that we have been saying things we shouldn’t have been saying for a long time. And you’re all probably tired of them being pointed out, but let’s once again gather in the realization that’s they’re being point out because, hello friends, we’re doing something insensitive. And we need to stop that.

The term Spirit Animal has long been used by teens on the internet to describe how much they relate to something. And it was presumably a pretty decent way to do so, drawing on the idea that our spirit—who we are at our core—could be reflected in similarities with either an animal or a celebrity.

In fact, the first record of the term Spirit Animal being used to describe a celebrity as something akin to a representation was back in 2007, when Samuel L. Jackson made history by being the internet’s first publicly dubbed celebrity Spirit Animal. As are most things with the internet, this came about in a conversation while tripping. That means being extraordinarily high on drugs, friends, not falling down. (I expect all of you are wholesome individuals, so I felt the distinction had to be made.)

Everyone’s Spirit Animal Should Be Cultural Sensitivity

However, that way of thinking is highly problematic, as the term Spirit Animal, as used by young adults today, is a bastardized version of a Native American tradition.

Now, it’s bad enough that White People pillaged and destroyed and essentially stole America from the Native Americans, but we had to make it worse by ripping off their language and customs as well. Because we weren’t already terrible.

Cultural appropriation has long been an issue. However, most people don’t recognize how ingrained in our language it has become. The term Spirit Animal, specifically, qualifies as an unfortunate use of appropriation. This infringement on Native American beliefs may be seem harmless by the people perpetuating and remaining unaffected by the negative repercussions of the phrase, but that doesn’t stop it from being an issue.

“But everybody’s doing it!”

Stop. I’m going to sound like your mother and ask you if everyone was jumping off a bridge if you’d do it too. If the term continues to be popularized in its bastardized fashion, this New Age bullshit people are trying to pull will supersede the original meaning. The word’s loss of meaning would be damaging to the concept of tradition, especially one as regularly plagiarized and demeaned as the traditions of Native Americans.

Religion and belief is something to be taken seriously, and when it’s corrupted by pop culture and turned into something it shouldn’t be, then that’s where the damage starts to set in. And we don’t need the internet ruining anything else.

I am nowhere near qualified enough to go into the importance of the term, and by no means do I want to generalize Native Americans as a singular identity, especially since Spirit Animal is not the same for every tribe. However, I do feel like the inappropriate use of the term is something that should be pointed out more, because most of the time people don’t know how problematic certain language can be.

Even celebrities, like Kerry Washington, who we all know lives a tier above us regular mortals, are getting schooled in misusing terms. The internet can be scary, but it can also be educational.

Luckily, there is a section of the internet not totally dominated by trolls, where the kind of experienced warriors of awareness and equality strive to use education as a way to point out mistakes. And trust me, everybody makes mistakes.

The 12-year-olds raving about how Rebel Wilson is their Spirit Animal don’t know how harmful throwing around particular phrases can be. Once you know something is problematic though, you can be part of the group of experienced warriors of awareness and equality, using education instead of insults to drive your point home.

We can be like those adorable children from Brazil who learn English and correct celebrities’ grammar on Twitter. They’re cute and nice and using education to help people! Be like the Brazilian children.

You may be asking yourself, “But how will I express my inexplicable connection with Anna Kendrick without using the term Spirit Animal? I have to let the world know how much I relate to her tweets on a personal level!” And, I mean, same. If you must find out which spirit animal you are, then you can consult with a free psychic reader on PsychicGuild.com here.

But, there are other words that accurately and less offensively carry the same intended meaning.

Solution: The word Patronus effectively carries the same intended meaning as the bastardized version of Spirit Animal, and additionally, is a rad reference, universally understood in its meaning and a non-offensive word. Triple win.

So think before you speak, folks. White privilege and cultural appropriation are real and unfortunately very much ingrained in our language. But if we can start small by cutting out things like the term Spirit Animal and dream catcher tattoos (please just google why that’s a bad idea; I don’t have the time to do everything myself), we can make headway toward living in a less offensive society.

Totally unrelated, but my Patronus is Chris Evans. See how much cooler that sounds?


  1. Funny, but when I saw the title, I thought it was going to be about Norse and Germanic peoples. The fact is, totemism and animism are/were practiced world wide and are not “owned” by the indigenous peoples of the Americas continents. In fact, there are probably very few people in America that do not have an ancestor that practiced totemism or animism.

  2. Yup the germanic berserkers who thought the spirit of the bear made them unkillable, the druidic, egyptian, chinese and mayan fondness for snakes which amongst all these represented wisdom and immortality. Hell even the various forms of the shaolin styles which were thought to be derivative of the various animals in their names for Zeus’s sake. Humans have always had a fascination and connection to the various other species that inhabit this planet, no one culture has a monopoly on this and to claim otherwise shows a shocking lack of awareness of anthropology and mythology.

  3. How can it be Cultural appropriation when it belongs to the world across many cultures and centuries. Animals as a totem is a concept that has been spoken about since time began basically. So how is it only the Native Americans own this???

  4. I really appreciate the term “native american” in an article condemning cultural appropriation.

  5. I think it sounds completely stupid when people say “[insert pop culture icon] is my Spirit Animal”. However, I disagree that it’s “cultural appropriation”. All art and culture is appropriated, just more or less respectfully. But the term Spirit Animal spans cultures, so it’s hard to say that it’s appropriating a specific culture (not that Native American is particularly specific, though.)

    Anyway, I found this post when I googled “blank is my spirit animal annoying” and I found this post, so there’s my 2 cents.

  6. […] Everyone’s Spirit Animal Should be Cultural Sensitivity – This post by Samantha Gross is a brief intro into cultural appropriation and respectful alternatives. It’s written by a white person for white people, which is important because people with privilege need to take responsibility for educating other people with privilege. However, if it’s a topic you want to learn more about (which I highly recommend), it’s worth seeking out Indigenous writers sharing their wisdom and experience. Native Appropriations is a great place to start. […]

  7. In my experience, the term spirit animal offends Native American people. That is enough for me to stop using it.

  8. Fuck this sensitivity shit, fuck being politically correct and fuck the white bitch who wrote this shit. Say what you want, how you want, and fuck what others think. Free world, Free Speech.

  9. I think that white people should tread very carefully when supposedly speaking on behalf of minorities. I really have no clue how first nation people and Native Americans feel about this issue. But I do know that minorities have diverse viewpoints and that as a mixed race person my Indian (South Asian) side of the family enjoyed white people participating in their customs and wearing traditional clothes. And as I have experienced racism and watched the darker members of my family experience worse, again I’m going to say please, just stop. You make us look weak, when the reality is we deal with far worse without falling apart and it’s not at all clear how people saying spirit animal is actually harmful. What exactly is this article suppose to accomplish? It certainly doesn’t reduce racism and seems quite petty.

  10. A little late to the party here, but ANYONE who goes through the appropriate ritual/ceremony can “have a spirit animal”. In the journey I am speaking of, you DO NOT choose your spirit animal; it chooses you. And sometimes they seem really lame – they usually aren’t sharks or lions or flash-in-the-pan celebrities, duh. So yeah, although many cultures/religions/peoples are quite familiar with the concept of a familiar (haha), if someone is ranting on about their “spirit animal” on an inane forum such as facebook or in relation to a pop star ffs, THAT PERSON IS ALMOST CERTAINLY LYING TO YOU, double duh, lol!!
    Aaaand … most “Native Americans” call themselves INDIAN, so, um WhiteGirlFailTM lol
    Such nonsense!!

  11. Isn’t patronus from harry Potter? In Latin I believe it means protector or superior but I cant think of a culture that uses this word in this context

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss